You are hereTalking Points Memo: Ensign Still On The Ethics Hook After Resigning

Talking Points Memo: Ensign Still On The Ethics Hook After Resigning


April 22, 2011- Scandal-scarred Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) may have hoped resigning would keep quiet unsavory details and new charges surrounding his affair with a top staffer's wife, but he's not off the hook yet.

The Senate Ethics Committee issued a rare statement Friday signaling it would continue its investigation of Ensign's affair and steps he took to keep it quiet despite having formally resigned his Senate seat. Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA), the top Democrat and Republican on the panel respectively, said his resignation is "appropriate" and indicated they would wrap up work on the probe as soon as possible.

"The Senate Ethics Committee has worked diligently for nearly 22 months on this matter and will complete its work in a timely fashion," they said in the statement.

There was no indication of just how thoroughly the panel would pursue the case with Ensign gone or whether they would wrap up what they have already found and issue a report before his departure date of May 3.

Usually ethics committee investigations, as well as Justice Department criminal probes of lawmakers, come to a screeching halt when members of Congress resign.

Members of the ethics committees in the House and Senate have sometimes claimed they technically no longer have jurisdiction over the former lawmakers' activities once they leave office. But ethics experts say those explanations have served as convenient excuses for members of ethics panels, who normally dislike policing their peers, to let it die and prevent the panel from having to take a stand on the alleged violations one way or the other.

Meredith McGehee, the policy director of the Campaign Legal Center, said she hopes the Ethics Committee will continue thoroughly investigating the Ensign case and devote as much time as needed to it. In February the panel announced the hiring of a special counsel to probe the matter in order to prevent personal conflicts-of-interest among senators on the ethics committee from getting in the way of the case.

"I hope they do," McGehee tells TPM. "Otherwise, this whole affair would just have been swept under the carpet. There is a need to get accurate information out there about what happened and I hope they will indeed issue a final report."

The case should also serve as a reminder, McGeehee said, that the Senate refused to establish its own outside ethics investigative office, unlike the House, which formed the independent Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) three years ago to try to better police members' behavior.

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